Reviews

Assetto Corsa Competizione Review – King of Console Sims?

Assetto Corsa Competizione boasts the official Blancpain licence, and that means you get to drive the wicked GT machines from the likes of McLaren, Porsche, Nissan and Audi, spanning the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Meanwhile, the selection of 11 tracks might sound too limiting but each one has been laser scanned and is thus about as accurate to real-life as we can get without actually driving around them in real-life. It also means you get sprint races, night racing and endurance events, all featuring the drivers from the Blancpain series. Sim racing on console is a niche genre, so when a new game arrives it’s an exciting time. It’s doubly exciting when we get usually overlooked like Blancpain.

My journey to actually getting Assetto Corsa Competizione to work was a frustrating one, at times. First, despite it being officially supported the game wouldn’t recognize my Logitech G920 wheel and pedals, an issue it seems a lot of people are having with numerous brands of kit. Sometimes it wouldn’t see it at all, and other times the wheel itself would work but the pedals wouldn’t. The workaround? Use a controller to go into a practice session, then pause the game, turn the controller off and plug the wheel in. For whatever baffling reason this seems to trick the game into seeing the G920 and other wheels and working properly.

Available On: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Kunos
Publisher: 505 Games

Review code provided free of charge by the publisher

The next issue was, to be fair, only partially the game’s fault. The Logitech G920 uses a rubber stopper in its brake for a more realistic feel but it also means you have to stamp on the brakes like you’re trying to destroy your floor. In most racing games this usually means I head into the options and fiddle with the brake sensitivity in order to ensure my neighbours aren’t screaming at me to shut the hell up. Assetto Corsa Competizion doesn’t have any such settings outside of a nebulous “brake gamma” setting, and so I’m not relatively confident that I’ve stamped my pedals into the great mechanical afterlife.

With the workaround for the wheel discovered I played for a while and then swapped over to the controller for the evening. Here’s when another problem struck: without the turn assisst option , which basically countersteers automatically for you, the steering was glacially slow. It made it quite literally unplayable as getting around corners was impossible. No matter what I fiddle with I can’t fix the problem without turning the steering assist back on. I’ve reported this to Kunos and am awaiting a reply.

Even with the controller working correctly, in the cockpit view the steering animation is bonkers. Instead of having the turning animated realistically the wheel instead jumps from side to side. It appears to have been tied directly to the range of motion available on the analogue stick, and so it looks like your virtual driver is high on crack and pumped up on steroids, jerking the wheel from side to side they’re trying to saw a log in half. Honestly, I found it difficult to drive on the normal cock-pit view with a controller because the motion of the wheel kept tricking me into thinking I was losing control. The dashboard came is much better because it crops the wheel out entirely.

The chase camera suffers from some problems, too, namely that when the car starts to slide a little the camera sways madly to the side which makes it seem like you’ve lost a lot more control than you actually have. You can get used to it but it’s frustrating.

Then there’s the framerate. The game aims for a disappointing 30FPS even on the Xbox One X, but that is at least partially understandable as the excellent physics model at play is probably already straining the console’s CPU to the max. What isn’t forgivable are the framerate drops, particularly when you’re racing in the middle of the pack. Even if you’re out ahead you’ll still spot a stutter here or there, but with 16 cars ahead of you it’s quite poor. Part of me wonders if the devs shouldn’t have just waited to port the game over to the next-gen consoles where the hardware could do the game justice.

It does look pretty damn nice, though. The digital rearview mirror is a jagged messy but everything else is sharp and detailed. It appears to be roughly equivalent to low settings on the PC version, which is actually a back-handed compliment because even on these low settings Assetto Corsa Competizione looks excellent. There’s a real-time night and day cycle operating in the background, and when you find yourself in the dark with rain hammering down it’s really something else. You peer out of the gloom like a grandma looking for the glasses she’s already wearing, and hope that the corner you’ve just turned sharply into is actually there.

The sound design is also excellent. Be warned, this is an astoundingly loud game by default and it’s entirely possible that you’ll destroy your ears if you aren’t careful. These meaty GT machines snarl, growl, pop, whine and sometimes sound like they’re being taken apart at a mechanical level, which is terrifying when you’re screaming around a corner at 100MPH.

If you’re still with me then congratulations, because just like the game itself you’ve got to be willing to wade through a lot of issues to get to the brilliance at the core: the handling and physics. Even on a controller Assetto Corsa Competizione feels satisfying to drive, but on a wheel it’s truly excellent. Cars have a palpable feeling of weight as you chuck them into bends and bounce over curbs, and unlike a lot of other games you can really feel the differences as tyres warm up, brake temperatures fluctuate and your rubber slowly degrades. It helps makes each lap feel different, and that in turn means you don’t just slip into a sort of brainless rhythm like it’s so easy to do with other games.

Each of the cars available feel remarkably different, too, which makes jumping between them a lot more fu.n It also makes focusing on one car and learning its nuances an extremely rewarding experience. You’ll quickly find a favourite. I’m partial to the Nissan GTR, although that’s because I’m a fan of it in real-life.

The emphasis is mostly on consistent racing rather than outright speed. Unless you specifically opt for a short season you’ll be taking part in several endurance races where being consistent and just staying on the road are more important than just being fast.

My only complaints about the driving are that the sense of speed is sorely lacking which means these beautiful GT machines are don’t justice, and the force feedback seems…weak. Obviously the G920 is a low-end wheel so it can’t pump out art-wrenching pain like a fancy-pants direct drive wheel can, but I know it’s capable of a lot more than Assetto Corsa Competizione was getting out of it.

Consoles aren’t exactly known for being the home of hardcore racing sims, so Assetto Corsa Competizione joins a some seriously slim pickings, and because of that I had hoped that the developers might add some features to help guide new players. But no, that isn’t the case. You need to go in with the understanding that this is a game which demands that you put the time in. The tuning menu is awash in options with no explanations, and when you plug in a wheel there’s no basic presets for the most popular models, so you need to spend awhile tinkering to find something that works. There’s nothing explaining the basic concepts of the Blancpain series either, so it might be an idea to head onto Google and learn about mandatory pitstops and rolling starts.

The career mode is as barebones as it gets, especially when you compare it to what things like F1 2019 have been doing. There’s no fancy menus where you sit in the garage and flip through emails on a laptop, there’s no R&D to consider or any of that nonsense You just do races. You can select whether you want longer or shorter sessions during your career (the shortest races in career mode are 20-minutes) but that’s your lot. Between races you might be called upon to do a Pirelli tyre test or something, which is initially intriguing, but all it asks you to do is drive some laps of the circuit you’re about to go to for a race weekend anyway. And as you reach the end of a season there’s nothing like contract offers to consider.

More baffling is that career mode doesn’t have a points system, but Championship mode does. In fact, I’d recommend ignoring the career mode and heading into championship mode as it championship standings and a lot more flexibility when it comes to the length of races and such. When you compare the whole package to what Codemasters have been doing with their games it feels flat and lifeless. Perhaps Kunos will expand on career mode in the future, but for now if you like a meaty singleplayer career to work through this might not be the game for you.

Also, when you finish up a qualifying, practice or race you have to wait for the A.I. to finish as well. There’s no option to skip the few minute wait time. It’s a small problem, but one that also exemplifies how rough Assetto Corsa Competizione can feel. Things like this or how other cars can occupy the same pit box as you indicate that Kunos have focused so heavily on the driving that they’ve let other things slip. In many ways that’s a good thing because the driving and physics are the most important thing in a racing sim. But that ultimately doesn’t mean I can just ignore the problem, either.

Multiplayer is somewhat lacking too, in the sense that private lobbies are currently missing. They are promised to be added later on, but it’s odd to exclude them at launch. For now, you can simply join a standard race, but where you are placed is based on your safety rating. This is a smart piece of design as your safety rating even carries through from the singleplayer side of the game, so if you barge the A.I. into walls you’ll be matched up with equally dirty drives online. The system is perhaps a little over zealous with its penalties, but for the most part it’s solid and helps keep the clean drivers away from the nutjobs.

Assetto Corsa Competizione had a rough development throughout its early access on PC, but Kunos has managed to pull through, though the official launch version which came out a few weeks ago is still in need of a lot of polish. For this console version it seems like Kunos are reliving that development cycle by putting out a game that doesn’t feel finished. The control issues alone are a massive problem, but then there’s the erratic steering animations using a controller, the framerate, the lack of private lobbies and more.

All in all, if you’re primarily a console gamer and have been patiently waiting for a new sim racer then Assetto Corsa Competizione has some of the best handling and physics in the business. However, for anyone except the most dedicated sim racing fan I’d recommend waiting for Kunos to hopefully sort the game out, at which point you could probably bump the score up to a 4. Or, if possible, check out the massively better PC version which also supports VR for some of the most intense virtual wet-weather racing I’ve ever had.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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